Photo of Scholarship Foundation founder Meta Bettman

The Social Utility of Scholarships, c.1926

Faith SandlerEducation, Financial Aid, Impact, Words of Faith

In 1926, six years after the first interest-free loan was made, Scholarship Foundation founder Meta Bettman typed out a five-page essay, explaining the connection between this seemingly individual act (a scholarship to an individual) and larger societal and national values.  Though the typeface has faded and some of the language is dated, her main points are relevant today.  Accordingly, I bring you Mrs. Irvin Bettman, today’s guest blogger.

– Faith Sandler


At all times the paramount purpose of society is to promote general welfare. From the beginning of our history a wide diffusion of knowledge among the people has been furthered by various acts of legislation as a means to this end. While to develop and foster the material prosperity is a moral obligation, a nation’s greatness is ultimately in the character and intelligence of its people.  As modern life becomes more complicated, it is more difficult for individuals to gain honorable positions, and greater effort and higher ability are required. Education together with honest labor are, perhaps, the greatest contributing factors to the welfare of society as a whole. But education is very costly. It would seem that only those blessed with means may benefit thereby.

To provide scholarships for worthy girls and boys for the purpose of cultivating their ideals, developing their characters and their intelligence is a social strategy of the first order. It is the permanent line of social defense. It is moreover a vital part of public economy.

When we say that a man is born free, we mean nothing more than that he is born capable of making himself free by a process of gradual emancipation from the thralldom of ignorance. For the underprivileged there is no way of attaining this freedom. To many hundreds of boys and girls throughout the country the modern idea of financial assistance while working for their education has been the means of opening up entirely new roads to success. Without education in a world where multitudes strive for knowledge, power and wealth, many unfortunates are thrust back. However, by means of scholarships they are now given a chance to hew out a niche in the world for themselves and by so doing, materially advance the aims of society.

Possibly every institution of learning can point to a number of students with ability to earn their entire expenses through college and yet in many cases an A.B. or B.S. has been obtained at the cost of low scholarship and overstrained bodies and minds. While the value of summer occupation can not be denied, and must supplement a tuition scholarship, is it worth while for the student to work six or seven hours a day during the school year to support himself through college when his best efforts should be given to his subjects. Obviously a student, as anyone else, can do but a limited amount of work in a day. Rather than half-doing both academic and outside work, is it not a better plan for him to borrow on the basis of character and so secure for himself the added hours needed for his best work in his studies which is the logical premise for his ultimate earning power, with, of course, return of the loan when that earning power is attained?

Scholarship funds each year are increasing in numbers throughout the country, a fact in itself a proof of the social utility of scholarships…

…One little Russian girl, who was benefited by scholarship, pays this tribute…

My second year in college will soon end. How much you have done for me! Life to me was hard and bitter struggle. Hatred and prejudice surrounded me from early childhood; fear was my common emotion. Scenes of murders, bloodshed and misery hunted me even in the Land of Freedom and Peace. All I wanted was to be left alone to ponder over the chaos and squalor of human life.

Then you came and spurred me to action. You gave me the opportunity to live a broader and fuller life. The whole world of knowledge is slowly unrolling before me. I find joy in the ability to understand the great men and women of all ages. I have learned not to fear life. In deep gratitude my heart cries out, ‘Thanks, thanks to you all for the light you brought into my life.’

One more proof of the social utility of scholarships.